Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kenya

A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

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New York Times, Cool with Ghailani Verdict

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

The New York Times editors scold those politicians who are alarmed by the verdict in the civilian trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. “They are disappointed that the defendant was only convicted of one count of conspiring to blow up American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 — a crime for which he will probably serve a life sentence,” they write. “That clearly wasn’t enough for Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican who will be the next chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.” They close their editorial with the following: “The federal courts have proved their ability to hold fair trials and punish the guilty. That is what we call getting the job done.”

The time to be served is not the issue. The fact is that a universe of critical and hard-earned evidence was thrown out due to the incompatibility of the war on terror and our civil court system. The Times omits the glaring, screaming, phosphorescent reality that Ghailani was found not guilty of 284 out of 285 charges against him. This case establishes a precedent that will have us crossing our fingers in hopes that .35 percent of the charges against a given suspect will be viable enough to allow for civil prosecution. The courts got .35 percent of the “job done.”

The Times editors understand this, of course. They are playing a shell game with the salient facts to put a respectable face on their frenzied denunciations of war tribunals for terrorists. In this case, pretending that justice was served strikes me as being more abject than actually believing it.

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The Ghailani Debacle

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.’”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.’”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

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Ending Piracy: We Did It Before, We Must Do It Again

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

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Getting Obama Half-Right — and All Wrong

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

Newt Gingrich has created a new controversy with remarks to National Review Online: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” As is sadly all too often the case with the former House speaker, he has said something that is half-sharp and half-politically destructive. He’s onto something by connecting Obama’s ideas to anti-colonialism, I think. The key principle in the social and political science Obama studied in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that colonialism was the great evil of the 20th century. The attacks on colonialism, which had been common on the left since the 1920s, were amplified in the 1960s by the reassertion of the Marxist-Leninist conception of “imperialism,” and for good reason — because the more general and less specific term “imperialism” was the way the left could put the United States at the center of its indictment of bourgeois Western corruption and rot.

To the extent that Obama believes that the West and the United States bear a considerable amount of blame for the parlous economic and political condition of other parts of the world and should offer some words of apologetic explanation, he may be operating (as Gingrich sort of suggests) from an ideological base in anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist thinking. This would go a long way to explaining, for example, his bizarre conduct toward Great Britain upon assuming the presidency — the snub of then-PM Gordon Brown, the presentation of a shoddy gift of DVDs, and the banishing of a bust of Churchill from the White House. Why do any of these things to this country’s closest ally unless there is some ideological root? That root could be anti-colonialist ideas, which always held that Great Britain was the worst colonial offender even if it hadn’t been the cruelest (the Belgians were the cruelest) because it portrayed itself as being so humane and orderly.

But by adding a connection to Obama’s father’s home country, Gingrich simply makes his anti-colonial point all but inaudible in the white-noise crackle produced by aligning himself, at least philosophically, with the “birther” crowd. To make the anti-colonial point, there was no need to mention Kenya; the center of anti-colonialist thinking during Obama’s formative educational years was on the Western left, particularly on social-science faculties at major universities here and in Europe. Far more important in this context, if you’re going to mention one of his parents, is his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, who did her academic training as an anthropologist as Obama was growing up. It would seem likely that any ideas of an anti-colonialist nature that Obama might have imbibed as a child would not have come from the father, whom he saw only twice in his life, but rather from his stoutly American, Kansas-to-Seattle-to-Hawaii mother, whose remarkable life journey also included taking up permanent residence on the academic left.

Gingrich might just have been careless in the way he was talking, and through that carelessness handed his party’s enemies a big stick to beat the GOP with at a particularly inopportune moment. Or he might have been sending a cutesy, cagey signal to the birthers that he had joined their number. Hard to say which would be worse.

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Yemen and the Biden Strategy

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

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Winston Churchill in Perspective

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

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A Catch-and-Release Policy for Pirates

This is a story that is almost unbelievable — except that those of us who have been following the battle against piracy know it is all too commonplace:

A group of suspected Somali pirates detained on a Dutch warship has been released because no country has agreed to prosecute them. …

The suspects were seized in the Indian Ocean two weeks ago after allegedly attempting to attack a cargo ship.

They were put back on their own speedboat with some food and fuel.

What then, is the point, of the U.S. and other nations sending its warships to patrol the coast of East Africa if they’re going to simply release the captured culprits? The legal authority to imprison and even execute them is strong. In fact, the “doctrine of universal jurisdiction” — nowadays used to snare war criminals and Israeli leaders — was originally developed to deal with pirates, who were declared “hostes humani generis,” or common enemies of mankind. States going back to the days of the Roman Empire exercised the right to capture and execute captured pirates. The U.S., Britain, and other nations made ample use of this authority to stamp out the last major outbreak of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today we have become unwilling to subject these banditos to the most elementary justice. The U.S. and other nations had hoped that Kenya would try the pirates, but in this case — and many others — the Kenyan authorities aren’t obliging. So why aren’t the U.S. and other nations stepping forward to try the pirates in their own courts? A variety of excuses will be advanced; reportedly the British are even worried about the cutthroats claiming “refugee” status. But ultimately it comes down to a failure of will. Until the so-called civilized nations muster the courage to act decisively, the plague of piracy will continue.

This is a story that is almost unbelievable — except that those of us who have been following the battle against piracy know it is all too commonplace:

A group of suspected Somali pirates detained on a Dutch warship has been released because no country has agreed to prosecute them. …

The suspects were seized in the Indian Ocean two weeks ago after allegedly attempting to attack a cargo ship.

They were put back on their own speedboat with some food and fuel.

What then, is the point, of the U.S. and other nations sending its warships to patrol the coast of East Africa if they’re going to simply release the captured culprits? The legal authority to imprison and even execute them is strong. In fact, the “doctrine of universal jurisdiction” — nowadays used to snare war criminals and Israeli leaders — was originally developed to deal with pirates, who were declared “hostes humani generis,” or common enemies of mankind. States going back to the days of the Roman Empire exercised the right to capture and execute captured pirates. The U.S., Britain, and other nations made ample use of this authority to stamp out the last major outbreak of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today we have become unwilling to subject these banditos to the most elementary justice. The U.S. and other nations had hoped that Kenya would try the pirates, but in this case — and many others — the Kenyan authorities aren’t obliging. So why aren’t the U.S. and other nations stepping forward to try the pirates in their own courts? A variety of excuses will be advanced; reportedly the British are even worried about the cutthroats claiming “refugee” status. But ultimately it comes down to a failure of will. Until the so-called civilized nations muster the courage to act decisively, the plague of piracy will continue.

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No Great Shakes Either

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

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A Little Worried?

Barack Obama added this to his otherwise rather standard election night speech on Tuesday:

I owe what I am to this country I love, and I will never forget it. Where else could a young man who grew up herding goats in Kenya get the chance to fulfill his dream of a college education? Where else could he marry a white girl from Kansas whose parents survived war and depression to find opportunity out west? Where else could they have a child who would one day have the chance to run for the highest office in the greatest nation the world has ever known? Where else, but in the United States of America?

Could it be that the Obama team is a wee bit concerned that between Michelle’s comments, Barack’s discarding of his flag lapel pin, and all the talk about how positively dreadful things in America are, even Democratic primary voters  might sense he is a bit too disdainful of the country he seeks to lead? (This is to say nothing of general election voters, who will be choosing between him and a war hero whose love for America pours forth with the slightest provocation.)

The comments were no accident, according to this report:

A senior Obama strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged that he is receiving varied advice from Democrats, including changing Obama’s stump speech to emphasize his American roots and pushing for a second round of changes in the nation’s welfare laws, this time aimed at stray fathers. If Obama finds himself forced to defend his patriotism before a skeptical electorate, he will be in deep trouble, [Iowa Governor Tom] Vilsack warned. But, he added, “what’s the alternative, ignore it? We paid a price in 2004 for thinking the charge wouldn’t stick.” [Alabama Congressman Arthur] Davis said Obama needs to immediately preempt attacks on his patriotism by reprising the theme of his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention — that only in the United States of America could the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a woman from a small-town in Kansas aspire to the heights of power. Obama took up that theme last night, but only deep inside his San Antonio address.

The problem, however, is not one easily solved by a throwaway line or two. Obama and his wife have given us every reason to believe that the country is a mess, the average guy gets the shaft, and politicians are corrupt. It’s a fine line to walk between painting a picture of a country in such dire straits that we need Obama and only Obama (or change, or something  different than anything that ever came before him) and saying that, flat out, that you are not proud of your country. I think all of Axeldrod’s advice is right. If there are concerns about Obama’s affection for this country now, just wait until he’s up against a man who considered it an honor to remain in prison for the country he loved.

Barack Obama added this to his otherwise rather standard election night speech on Tuesday:

I owe what I am to this country I love, and I will never forget it. Where else could a young man who grew up herding goats in Kenya get the chance to fulfill his dream of a college education? Where else could he marry a white girl from Kansas whose parents survived war and depression to find opportunity out west? Where else could they have a child who would one day have the chance to run for the highest office in the greatest nation the world has ever known? Where else, but in the United States of America?

Could it be that the Obama team is a wee bit concerned that between Michelle’s comments, Barack’s discarding of his flag lapel pin, and all the talk about how positively dreadful things in America are, even Democratic primary voters  might sense he is a bit too disdainful of the country he seeks to lead? (This is to say nothing of general election voters, who will be choosing between him and a war hero whose love for America pours forth with the slightest provocation.)

The comments were no accident, according to this report:

A senior Obama strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged that he is receiving varied advice from Democrats, including changing Obama’s stump speech to emphasize his American roots and pushing for a second round of changes in the nation’s welfare laws, this time aimed at stray fathers. If Obama finds himself forced to defend his patriotism before a skeptical electorate, he will be in deep trouble, [Iowa Governor Tom] Vilsack warned. But, he added, “what’s the alternative, ignore it? We paid a price in 2004 for thinking the charge wouldn’t stick.” [Alabama Congressman Arthur] Davis said Obama needs to immediately preempt attacks on his patriotism by reprising the theme of his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention — that only in the United States of America could the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a woman from a small-town in Kansas aspire to the heights of power. Obama took up that theme last night, but only deep inside his San Antonio address.

The problem, however, is not one easily solved by a throwaway line or two. Obama and his wife have given us every reason to believe that the country is a mess, the average guy gets the shaft, and politicians are corrupt. It’s a fine line to walk between painting a picture of a country in such dire straits that we need Obama and only Obama (or change, or something  different than anything that ever came before him) and saying that, flat out, that you are not proud of your country. I think all of Axeldrod’s advice is right. If there are concerns about Obama’s affection for this country now, just wait until he’s up against a man who considered it an honor to remain in prison for the country he loved.

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Ned Colt’s Inspiration

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

Yesterday on the Today Show, NBC broadcaster Ned Colt offered a disturbing and inaccurate portrait of Osama bin Laden.

Colt begins: “Murderous fanatic or hero of radical Islam?” Strange use of the word or, indeed. But that’s not the real kicker by a longshot.

COLT: In the West the Saudi born al Qaeda leader is blamed for the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and two years later the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. And while he’s never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11, at the very least he inspired the attacks that left 3000 dead.

Bin Laden’s guilt isn’t a stone-cold fact, but a Western construction. And how does Colt know this? Because bin Laden has “never directly claimed responsibility for 9/11.” Actually, he has. But since when does a criminal’s culpability rest on his taking credit for a crime, anyway?

The only person Colt speaks with during this piece is Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds, who gushes: “History will remember Osama Bin Laden as the man who challenged the American superpower. The little David who actually stand up against the mighty Goliath.” Lest we miss the point, Colt closes with “American officials believe Bin Laden’s power [“inspirational”, Ned?] has only increased in recent years with his followers now active in at least 40 countries worldwide,” before throwing it over to Brian Williams.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in wanting to know if a prominent NBC news reporter considers Osama bin Laden a mass-murderer or a guiltless inspiration.

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Somalia’s Islamist Insurgency

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

The Middle East is not the only battlefront in the war on terror; Africa has long been a staging ground. The spectacular bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 put the issue of Islamism in Africa onto front pages, but the battle has hardly let up since then. Case in point: Somalia.

In December of last year, Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist government that had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and declared a jihad against its Christian neighbor. The United States, rightfully, assisted the Ethiopian invasion by providing satellite imagery and bombing Islamist positions.

The American assistance to this vital anti-terrorism operation raised the usual cackles amongst some on the American Left, but mostly, it went unnoticed. The Ethiopian invasion was an open and shut case of a justified, state-level response to cross-border attacks. The United Nations’ senior representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, however, begs to differ:

United Nations officials now concede that the country was in better shape during the brief reign of Somalia’s Islamist movement last year. “It was more peaceful, and much easier for us to work,” Mr. Laroche said. “The Islamists didn’t cause us any problems.”

Mr. Ould-Abdallah called those six months, which were essentially the only epoch of peace most Somalis have tasted for years, Somalia’s “golden era.”

This is a brazen statement by Ould-Abdallah, considering that the transitional government the Islamists overthrew, established in 2004, was supported by his employer as well as the African and European Unions and the United States. Claiming that the illegal, Islamist overthrow of this internationally-recognized government brought upon a “golden era” should merit Ould-Abdallah’s immediate termination as a United Nations official.

The grave situation in Somalia is of concern to the United States not just because of the humanitarian distress caused by famine and plagues, but also because of the political instability that has created a vacuum in which anti-Western, Islamist elements can prosper. If American policymakers wish to avoid another Afghanistan, they would do well to ensure that Somalia’s Islamist insurgency is defeated.

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Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

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Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

In explaining the U.S.’s interest on these critical issues, Obama is ill-prepared. He prides himself on having opposed the Iraq war since 2002, and would likely reinforce the perception of many in the Muslim world that the war was the product of “exaggerated fears.”

Obama further appears unsuited to explaining the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he has supported publicly. He is advised by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that this relationship is the product of Jewish pressure, not strategic interest—a theory that has contributed to the proliferation of popular anti-Semitism on the “Arab street.” Indeed, Brzezinski is a huge liability if Obama hopes to convince Americans of his ability to sell American foreign policy. Brzezinski recently signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas, a move that would turn our backs on the one Arab constituency still nominally receptive to American aims—liberal Arabs. Of course, this letter was consistent with Obama’s own belief that the U.S. should talk with Iran’s leaders—a move that similarly would alienate Iran’s younger generation, widely thought to be liberal and pro-American.

If Obama hopes to prove that his version of “soft power” is truly powerful, he must explain how he will broaden America’s appeal among opponents in the Middle East without alienating allies. Distributing State Department-approved copies of Muhammad Ali’s biography and providing free English lessons simply won’t cut it.

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The London Bomb Plot: All the News That’s Fit to Spin

No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

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No sooner was the London car-bomb disaster averted, seemingly by poor tradecraft on the part of the bombers, than the spinning began. The New York Times, ever vigilant to explain the news in ways that comport with its editorial line, takes the lead.

“The idea of a multiple attack using car bombs,” reports Alan Cowell on the paper’s front page, has “raised concerns among security experts that jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda may have imported tactics more familiar in Iraq.”

“Imported tactics more familiar in Iraq”? In other words, what the Times is telling us, citing experts it declines to identify, is that this attempt to cause carnage in the heart of London is just more blowback from the American-led war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Is there anything to this?

Multiple simultaneous attacks have long been a hallmark of al Qaeda. The Times is suggesting that it is multiple simultaneous attacks using car bombs that is the unique Iraqi element in this instance. Is this so?

On August 7, 1998, two U.S. embassies were simultaneously blown up by al Qaeda, one in Tanzania, the other in Kenya. The method employed: car bombs. This particular weapon may be in wide use in Iraq, but car bombs were being employed by al Qaeda long before the United States became embroiled in a counterinsurgency there. The Times, for obvious reasons, would have us think otherwise.

The Washington Post, to its credit, does not even hint in this direction; indeed, it directly refutes the suggestion offered by the Times. Noting that the two rigged cars found in London were packed with gas cylinders and nails, it refers to the “Gas Limos Project,” a 39-page document written by a British citizen, Dhiren Barot, that was found by counterterrorism operatives in 2004 on a laptop in Pakistan, containing instructions on how to use gas cylinders and nails in cars to blow up an underground parking garage and cause maximum bloodshed:

The limousine scheme called for a six-man team to park the vehicles in a garage underneath a large building—the precise target wasn’t specified—and detonate the bombs by remote control.

According to the memo, Barot envisioned packing each limo with 12 or 13 cylinders of propane, acetylene or liquid oxygen, which would be detonated by a separate main charge of explosives. He also suggested packing the vehicles with nails—”preferably rusty”—to act as shrapnel.

The New York Times cites the Barot document but fails to mention that it was found in Pakistan. A multiple choice question for readers: is this latest bomb plot an example of (a) blowback from Iraq, (b) the continuation of al Qaeda’s war against the West, or (c) the continuation of the New York Times‘s war against the Bush administration? To ask the new ombudsman of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, for the correct answer, write to public@nytimes.com.

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Bad Character Assassination

Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

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Is torture ever permissible? The U.S. is in the midst of a great debate on this subject as the exigencies of counterterrorism collide with peacetime norms and traditions. But if inflicting pain during an interrogation is highly controversial, what about inflicting death before an interrogation?

We do this all the time on the battlefield, where killing enemy combatants before they kill us is accepted as the ordinary course of war. But now we are engaged in a shadow war off the battlefield, against terrorists who do not wear uniforms and operate in stealth. Is it permissible to strike them before they strike us?

Let me be more specific. In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This had been preceded by similar such restrictions issued by Presidents Ford and Carter.

These assassination bans, as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, came to hamstring our policy against al Qaeda in the late 1990’s. After Osama bin Laden had successfully launched terrorist attacks against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA was ordered to find ways to put al Qaeda out of business. Elaborate plans were drawn up, but the assassination ban dominated the agency’s thinking; the upshot of all the preparations, states the 9/11 Commission staff report, was that “the only acceptable context for killing bin Laden was a credible capture operation.”

A plan designed to kill bin Laden outright was deemed unacceptable and illegal. Never mind that the U.S. had launched a fusillade of cruise missiles at one of his camps in 1998 to do just that; that was a military action, not a CIA covert operation.

One of the most memorable sentences in the entire 9/11 Commission report concerns the CIA contemplating action against bin Laden on a road leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, “expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination.”

Not long afterward, the operation was called off. As a result, people did get killed—thousands of them—and not on the road to Kandahar but in lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania.

Islamist clerics around the world are still calling for suicide bombers to attack the United States. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on one such Pakistani cleric in today’s paper. If the CIA could from time to time engage in covert action against such avowed advocates of violence against the U.S., would they be so brazen? Would the madrassas in which they preach their hatred continue to be multiplying homicidal graduates?

President Bush can revoke the assassination ban at will. As the Congressional Research Service explains, he can most obviously do so by issuing a new Executive Order. As the CRS also points out, under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an Executive Order need not be published. In other words, Bush might already have revoked the ban and we would not know it—at least until homicidal clerics start disappearing.

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Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali a “Fundamentalist”?

The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

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The novelist Peter De Vries once observed that there are certain people who appear profound on the surface while deep down they remain superficial. This seems a fair characterization of anyone who could take seriously as an indictment the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist,” coined by Timothy Garton Ash to describe the fearless critic of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As an act of verbal jujitsu, “Enlightenment fundamentalist” seems arresting at first. But just try to locate the intellectual and moral ties that bind, say, Sayyid Qutb to Baruch Spinoza, and you will come up empty-handed.

Hirsi Ali’s unapologetic preference for rationalism over “revealed” truth is not rooted in her own bone-chilling experiences, as she emphasizes in her new memoir, Infidel. (She was subjected to genital mutilation, arranged marriage, and regular beatings delivered by both kin and cleric.) Rather, through reading and common sense, she concluded that the open, secular society, where women are not treated as divinely licensed sex slaves, is self-evidently better than the closed, Islamic one, where they are.

This did not stop Garton Ash from writing, apropos of Hirsi Ali’s previous book, The Caged Virgin, that her career exhibited “a pattern familiar to historians of political intellectuals.” As he put it, she “has gone from one extreme to the other, with an emotional energy perfectly summed up by Shakespeare: ‘As the heresies that men do leave/are hated most of those they did deceive.’” (It’s in keeping with such generous standards of analysis that Garton Ash fails to mention the high irony of the fact that his quotation’s source, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, lampoons the foolishness of . . . arranged marriage, one of Hirsi Ali’s bêtes-noires.)

In both of her books, Hirsi Ali shows that her disgust and outrage have been fueled not by a feeling of having been personally “deceived” but by the conditions she has witnessed around her. She ran for a seat in the Dutch parliament in order to force Holland to gather information about the incidence of domestic violence—including sexual abuse and incest—and the ethnic background of its perpetrators. She also wanted the government to “investigate the number of excisions of little girls that took place every year on Dutch kitchen tables.”

Right-thinking intellectuals may choose to ignore or rationalize Koranic injunctions like “Your wives are your tillage, go in unto your tillage in what manner so ever you will,” arguing that these are only interpreted literally in a few third-world countries. Yet Hirsi Ali, who grew up in Somalia and traveled with her divided family to Saudi Arabia and Kenya, stands as a living reply: these literalists really get around. They are now, in fact, comfortably ensconced in cosmopolitan cities like London and Amsterdam, where Theo van Gogh, her friend and collaborator on the film Submission, was pulled off his bicycle and shot to death by Mohammed Bouyeri in 2004.

What best refutes Garton Ash’s charge of fundamentalism is the demonstrable fact that, even in her newfound atheism, Hirsi Ali can still pay homage to the rituals of faith. She writes in Infidel: “People were patient with each other in the Grand Mosque, and communal—everyone washing his or her feet in the same fountain, with no shoving or prejudice. We were all Muslims in God’s house, and it was beautiful. It had a quality of timelessness. I think this is one reasons Muslims believe that Islam means peace: because in a large, cool place full of kindness you do feel peaceful.”

Now show me bin Laden’s public acknowledgment that the Bill of Rights has its charms, too.

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Israel’s War for Public Opinion

Well, in case you weren’t absolutely certain, it’s now official: Israel is the least-liked country in the world. A new BBC poll of the attitudes of 28,000 people in 27 countries shows Israel at the bottom of the list, with 17 percent viewing it positively and 56 percent negatively—slightly below Iran (18 and 54 percent) and North Korea (19 and 48 percent).

The only four countries in the world in which more people are favorably rather than unfavorably inclined toward Israel are the United States, India, Nigeria, and Kenya—and not by big margins in any of them. Forty-one percent of Americans, for example, thought well of Israel while 33 percent didn’t, a serious drop-off from previous polls.

At the other end of the spectrum, apart from Muslim countries, Israel did worst in Europe. In Italy the vote was 58-to-18 against it. In England, 65-to-17. In France, 66-to-17. In Greece, 68-to-11. In Germany (Germany!), 77-to-10. These are frightening—I would almost say terrifying—figures. They show that the international campaign against Israel has succeeded incredibly well.

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Well, in case you weren’t absolutely certain, it’s now official: Israel is the least-liked country in the world. A new BBC poll of the attitudes of 28,000 people in 27 countries shows Israel at the bottom of the list, with 17 percent viewing it positively and 56 percent negatively—slightly below Iran (18 and 54 percent) and North Korea (19 and 48 percent).

The only four countries in the world in which more people are favorably rather than unfavorably inclined toward Israel are the United States, India, Nigeria, and Kenya—and not by big margins in any of them. Forty-one percent of Americans, for example, thought well of Israel while 33 percent didn’t, a serious drop-off from previous polls.

At the other end of the spectrum, apart from Muslim countries, Israel did worst in Europe. In Italy the vote was 58-to-18 against it. In England, 65-to-17. In France, 66-to-17. In Greece, 68-to-11. In Germany (Germany!), 77-to-10. These are frightening—I would almost say terrifying—figures. They show that the international campaign against Israel has succeeded incredibly well.

Nor is it much comfort that the United States did badly too, with 51 percent of the BBC’s respondents viewing it negatively and 30 percent positively, or that America and Israel appear to be linked in the eyes of world public opinion. For one thing, America’s position will start to rebound as soon as the Bush administration steps down, while Israel’s almost certainly will not. And secondly, the world’s greatest power need not feel endangered by such unpopularity, but it must be viewed differently by a small and beleaguered country toward whom the world’s attitudes can ultimately be a matter of life or death.

Although public opinion has less influence on foreign policy than on domestic policy, governments are not ultimately immune to it there either. So far the European Union, whose good will is crucial to Israel, has behaved toward it, if not always supportively, at least with a reasonable measure of sympathy and fairness. How long can this be expected to go on? How much longer will the government of Germany, which over and over has led the pro-Israel forces in Europe, continue to do so when its citizens, by a ratio of nearly 8-to-1, disapprove of the country it has been defending?

When one debates what “legitimate” criticism of Israel does and does not consist of, such figures need to be kept constantly in mind. No criticism of Israel that further distorts the wildly inaccurate picture of it that prevails in most of the world can possibly be legitimate. Israel is fighting a war for public opinion that is, in the long run, part of the war it is fighting for its survival—and it is being routed. Those who care for it, no matter how much they disagree with its current policies, should think not twice but ten times before they say or do anything that can only make this rout worse.

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The Libby Verdict, Take Two

Under what circumstances is it right to lie to federal investigators or to a grand jury? There is only one answer: none. If that is what Scooter Libby did–and it is what a jury of eleven concluded he did by convicting him of four of five counts–then he is guilty as charged. But Libby is still maintaining his innocence. The legal burden now falls on him, not on the government, to show why his conviction should be overturned.

Nevertheless, this case represents a terrible injustice, which was the point of my posting here yesterday that has stirred so much controversy in the comments section. Comparison with the investigation of Bill Clinton, and the perjury charges that were leveled by the House of Representatives when it voted to impeach him, is instructive.

To begin with, both cases featured the familiar phenomenon of runaway special counsels. Although the independent-counsel statute under which Clinton was endlessly investigated and ended in his impeachment has expired, it was a recipe for mischief. By vesting executive authority in a prosecutor not subject to the control of the executive branch, Congress had created a constitutional anomaly, one with unintended and destructive effects that plagued Democratic and Republican administrations alike. True, Fitzgerald’s appointment was the result of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s self-recusal, and he was endowed with a different set of powers from those granted to Kenneth Starr, but he operated every bit like a one-case prosecutor, effectively unchecked by line-authority in the executive branch.

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Under what circumstances is it right to lie to federal investigators or to a grand jury? There is only one answer: none. If that is what Scooter Libby did–and it is what a jury of eleven concluded he did by convicting him of four of five counts–then he is guilty as charged. But Libby is still maintaining his innocence. The legal burden now falls on him, not on the government, to show why his conviction should be overturned.

Nevertheless, this case represents a terrible injustice, which was the point of my posting here yesterday that has stirred so much controversy in the comments section. Comparison with the investigation of Bill Clinton, and the perjury charges that were leveled by the House of Representatives when it voted to impeach him, is instructive.

To begin with, both cases featured the familiar phenomenon of runaway special counsels. Although the independent-counsel statute under which Clinton was endlessly investigated and ended in his impeachment has expired, it was a recipe for mischief. By vesting executive authority in a prosecutor not subject to the control of the executive branch, Congress had created a constitutional anomaly, one with unintended and destructive effects that plagued Democratic and Republican administrations alike. True, Fitzgerald’s appointment was the result of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s self-recusal, and he was endowed with a different set of powers from those granted to Kenneth Starr, but he operated every bit like a one-case prosecutor, effectively unchecked by line-authority in the executive branch.

As it happens, there is no evidence that Kenneth Starr, appointed under the independent-counsel law, behaved improperly in his investigation of Clinton–although, as Richard Posner argued in An Affair of State, he did throw details into his report that gratuitously damaged the President and the presidency. By contrast, there is considerable evidence that Fitzgerald stepped out of bounds, primarily by insisting both to the public and to the jury that the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s identity–the underlying action that he was appointed to investigate–was in fact a crime. This is a point that has never been established, but Fitzgerald’s overreaching on it colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for lying that did not reside in proven facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status. All this will undoubtedly form the essence of any appeal.

In retrospect, it is clear that the Clinton case, despite the President’s obviously perjured statements, should not have been permitted to move forward. Indeed, as Posner has also argued, the Supreme Court erred grievously when it ruled in 1997, unanimously, to allow a sitting President to be caught up in civil litigation involving sex.

There is another more ominous point of comparison as well. Though the unfolding Monica story made 1998 a year of endless entertainment, that was also the crucial year in which American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up by al Qaeda, and the year in which Clinton’s ineffectual response–bombing a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and unleashing a fusillade of cruise missiles on an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan–led to authority-sapping charges that he was reenacting a scenario from the 1997 film Wag the Dog.

We obviously cannot know whether the feckless Clinton would have acted more vigorously abroad had he not gone to sleep every night that year thinking about how to escape from the legal consequences of his own tawdry conduct and lies, and been thinking instead about how to protect the country from its enemies. But all of us have paid a price for having a President distracted from his duties by an unbounded investigation of his private life in a year that his Secretary of State came to call “all Monica, all the time,” but should have been all counterterrorism, all the time. The bill for Clinton’s fun and frolic, and for our own, was only to come due on September 11, 2001.

Now, unlike in the 1990’s, we are at war. We do not yet know what the price tag will be for the Libby distraction, just as we do not know if his conviction will be tossed out on appeal or result in a presidential pardon. But in its broadest ramifications, the case, which arose out of an internecine dispute about the quality of foreign intelligence, augurs ill for any President’s ability to gather and evaluate the intelligence provided by subordinate agencies like the CIA, to formulate foreign policy, to defend what it has formulated from bureaucratic warfare waged by such subordinate agencies, and to keep our country secure.

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